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Recommended Method for Writing an Analysis of Poetry This assignment is an extended version of your in-class analysis. It will require you to examine more specific elements of the poem and connect them behind a main assertion of what the poem says to you

Recommended Method for Writing an Analysis of Poetry This assignment is an extended version of your in-class analysis. It will require you to examine more specific elements of the poem and connect them behind a main assertion of what the poem says to you.

For your first essay, please craft an analysis of the poem below using the method outlined on the other side of this page. Your goal is to demonstrate how the structure and content of the poem contribute to your reading of the poem’s primary message or effect. Your essay should present a solid claim about what the poem says to you, and then prove that claim by marshaling the elements of structure and content you identify in the poem. As part of your analysis, you must refer to one other poem we have discussed in class in order to elucidate a feature by comparison or distinguish a feature by contrast to the other poem.

Instructions and Formatting Requirements. Your essay must be no fewer than four complete pages and no longer than six complete pages, stapled together, double-spaced, in an appropriate twelve-point font other than courier. Your essay must also include: (1) a descriptive title; (2) page numbering with your last name (e.g., Name-2) in the bottom-center or upper-right corner of every page after the first; and (3) your name, course name, my name, and date in the upper-left corner of the first page (no cover pages, please).

Secondary Sources. You may, but are not required to, consult materials beyond the poem you are analyzing in the essay. Be careful, however, to acknowledge any outside source from which you take a quotation, additional information, or an idea that you use in your paper. I highly recommend that you do not consult articles specifically discussing the poem you analyze; if you do consult them, remember that your grade is based on how you integrate the source and what you add to it – only your own ideas and analyses count.

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Self-Portrait as a C-Section Scar

When I’m happy I can smile twice at the same time. 
So thin—a marker-tip line with a waxy shine—
a vein of a maple leaf, a dog’s upper lip, arm of anemone.
Of all the magical plants and animals in the sea,
the hagfish is the most unpopular, the most horrifying—
the one that makes children burst into tears. And if that
isn’t enough, she is the only fish without vertebrae,
so she can literally tie herself into a knot to bulge out
and pop the small mouths of fish that dare try to eat her.
Don’t you admire her clever slip and wriggle? Don’t 
you think her nerves are left a little more electric
after she is caught? Sometimes if you put an ear
to the dark slash between my hip bones, you can hear
a soft hum. Pretend it’s a skit of bees in late spring.

— Aimee Nezhukumatathil, 2018

Recommended Method for Writing an Analysis of Poetry

This assignment is an extended version of your in-class analysis. It will require you to examine more specific elements of the poem and connect them behind a main assertion of what the poem says to you and how it says it.

(1) Analyze. Read the poem through once, then read it again aloud. Start by noting down your initial reactions to the poem. Next, analyze the poem using all the tools we’re using in class. Look at the poem’s structure using sight (title or lack thereof, stanza or verse arrangement, couplets (if any), line divisions, sentences, punctuation, and typeface) and sound (rhyme scheme, rhythm and meter, assonance, consonance, alliteration, onomatopoeia, etc.). Then turn to the poem’s content, noting diction (parts of speech, repetitions and patterns, mood and tone, contradictions) and imagery (single-word images, simile and metaphor, extended metaphor and allegory, conceits, and symbols). Add anything about the text itself that you find peculiar or particularly interesting, including other works that you are reminded of in your reading (allusions and intertextual connections).

(2) Integrate. Looking at all the remarks you’ve made, ask yourself what they all mean to you, individually and together. What themes recur through all the areas you’ve examined (sight, sound, diction, and imagery)? Review your initial reactions to the poem and think about whether those reactions have been confirmed, altered, or contradicted by the specifics you’ve noted. From this, develop a main claim your essay will seek to prove. This is the trickiest part of poetic analysis: you want to make a non-obvious claim based on your reading, but you don’t want to be too categorical. FEEBLE = “Robert Burns’s ‘A Red, Red Rose’ means that true love never dies.” BETTER = “Through his use of varied sensory and geophysical metaphors, Robert Burns suggests that love, as a force of nature, can outlast even the life spans of the lover and the beloved.”

(3) Choose and Order. Once you have a claim to prove, choose the strongest specifics you’ve noted down to support your claim. Organize them carefully: you might follow the lines of the poem, or group your evidence according to attribute (all the sound evidence together, for example), or present the strongest evidence first and last, with supporting matter in between. Outline your evidence so you know precisely what you’re going to cite and how it supports your main claim. If you have specific evidence that opposes or refutes you main claim, discuss or concede it.

(4) Write, Review, Revise. As you write, focus on verbs. Use active, descriptive verbs that contribute to the reading you are advancing. NEVER NEVER: “In line 2, it states…” OR “the speaker is saying….” And, avoid wasteful vague verbs like is/are/was/were/says/said/states. Cite specific lines in parentheses (l.3 or ll.3-4). Finally, check to make sure your conclusion does more than simply restate your introduction. What have you learned from this exercise? Why are your observations interesting or important? When you’re done, read the whole thing over, revise for clarity, and proofread. Then, proofread again. Usually the last thing you will do is choose a title – what best describes your main claim, the way you arrive at your main claim, or the most powerful observation(s) you make about the poem?

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